Ranking the Top 10 Players in the 2014 NBA Finals

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 4, 2014

Ranking the Top 10 Players in the 2014 NBA Finals

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    Chances are, you've heard of quite a few stars suiting up in the 2014 NBA Finals

    The Miami Heat's "Big Three," comprised of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, is quite well known. So too is the San Antonio Spurs' answer, made up of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, though technically it was put together years earlier. 

    But these are two championship-caliber squads. There are more than six high-quality players. 

    Right off the bat, I'll tell you that San Antonio has more players featured in the top 10. It has six of the slots locked up, which means that at least one of the Spurs bench players is better than at least one of Miami's starters. 

    However, that doesn't mean that the Spurs should be the clear-cut favorites during what's sure to be a memorable series. Miami has a stranglehold on the top of the rankings, which makes this an interesting battle between uber-elite players and ridiculous depth. 

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current heading into the 2014 NBA Finals. 

10. Mario Chalmers

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: PG 

    Age: 28

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.0 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 7.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 11.9 PER

    Perhaps we'll get to see what Mario Chalmers can do as a featured player later in his career. He's an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 NBA Finals come to a close, and he could very well choose to go elsewhere in search of more offensive responsibility. 

    But with the Heat, he doesn't have much. 

    Chalmers is a secondary ball-handler, even though he plays point guard, and he functions more as a spot-up shooter than anything else when he's sharing the court with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Fortunately for Miami, he's pretty good at knocking down triples while conserving energy for the defensive end. 

    Now, he'll have his work cut out for him. After all, the Spurs have a floor general who won't be appearing in these rankings for quite some time. 

    Honorable Mentions: Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter

9. Boris Diaw

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PF

    Age: 32

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 14.1 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 17.0 PER

    Boris Diaw defies the laws of everything. 

    There's no way he should be playing basketball this effectively, but the Spurs have figured out exactly how to use his unique combination of talents. Diaw can shoot the ball effectively from the perimeter, handle and distribute the rock from any area of the court and use his veteran savvy to lock down a surprising number of offensive players. 

    How he guards LeBron James so well remains a mystery, but he's managed to do so enough times in the past that it can't just be a fluke. Then again, as Zach Lowe notes for Grantland while extolling Diaw's versatility, the four-time MVP started to figure out the matchup at the end of last year's Finals: 

    Diaw is San Antonio’s chubby futon, capable of shifting functions depending on the need. If the Spurs want to play big against Miami’s small-ball groups, pairing Diaw and Duncan, Diaw can punish a smaller player in the post and find some workable place to slide around on defense. He guarded LeBron some in last year’s Finals, and though he can do that credibly, LeBron began to figure it out in Games 6 and 7.

    If the Spurs don’t want Diaw on LeBron, he can manage on Lewis or Battier just fine. 

    Many of us have had futons in the past, and it's easy to see why it's such a perfect metaphor. 

    They're versatile pieces of furniture that you use more than you realize, but they're not exactly a type of home decor that you brag about having.

    Doesn't Diaw fit into the same mold? 

8. Danny Green

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 26

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 13.9 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 9.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks, 16.0 PER

    Can anyone forget what Danny Green did from downtown during the 2013 NBA Finals? 

    • Game 1: 4-of-9
    • Game 2: 5-of-5
    • Game 3: 7-of-9
    • Game 4: 3-of-5
    • Game 5: 6-of-10
    • Game 6: 1-of-5
    • Game 7: 1-of-6

    Sure, Green slowed down at the very end of the series, but he still finished shooting 27-of-49 from beyond the arc, good for a scorching 55.1 percent while setting the all-time record for most triples drained in the last series of the playoffs. 

    In fact, there have only been 33 games in NBA Finals history in which a player made at least five three-point attempts, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Green and Ray Allen are the only players to find themselves on the list three times, but Allen's are spread out over two separate Finals appearances (2008 and 2010); Green's all came last year. 

    So, is he going to repeat the performance this year? 

    After making 3.3 triples per game on 48.1 percent shooting from downtown leading up to this clash with the Heat, it's a distinct possibility. 

7. Manu Ginobili

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: SG

    Age: 36

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.0 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 21.1 PER

    As Grant Hughes makes quite clear for Bleacher Report, there are no longer any reasons to be concerned about Manu Ginobili, who appeared to be declining rather rapidly during the 2013 postseason run: 

    After a troublingly poor performance against Miami last year, there were real concerns he was done as a big-time contributor. Retirement talk floated around freely.

    But he came back for another run and has been as devastatingly crafty and competitive as ever. Whether handling the ball as a de facto point guard in relief of Parker or firing off cold-blooded triples late in the game, Ginobili is a ridiculously talented and intelligent game-changer.

    Somehow, Ginobili has actually become (remained?) the team's de facto closer. 

    Gregg Popovich has shown an incredible amount of trust in the Argentine 2-guard, giving him the ball in crucial situations time and time again. More often than not, Ginobili has rewarded him for his faith with a devastating "Eurostep" or similarly slithery move to the hoop. 

    The sixth man enjoyed a fantastic regular season, but he's been even better during the most important part of the season. If he can keep minimizing turnovers and getting to the line this frequently (4.3 free-throw attempts per game during the postseason), the San Antonio offense will be awfully difficult to stop. 

6. Kawhi Leonard

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: SF

    Age: 22

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 19.4 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 17.2 PER

    Kawhi Leonard is the future of the Spurs, and he's playing as though he's starting to realize it. 

    Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 22-year-old forward began showing more confidence in his offensive skills than ever before. He was aggressively attacking Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook whenever the ball found his hands. 

    Unfortunately, he was a bit too aggressive, which is never something I thought I'd say or write about Leonard. His handles need to get significantly tighter before he can expect to finish plays in isolation against standout defenders, even if some plays are still quite excellent.

    "He's probably the future of the Spurs," Popovich grudgingly said after the Western Conference Finals, via Fox Sports Southwest's Art Garcia, "partially because everybody else is older than dirt, and somebody younger has got to take over eventually."

    Partially. What's the other part? 

    That would be the versatility of Leonard, as he can function as a two-way Swiss army knife for the Spurs. His athletic finishes, shot-creating abilities, shooting stroke and defensive excellence are all highly beneficial to the winning cause. 

    Perhaps this will be the series in which the torch is firmly passed from Tim Duncan to Leonard, just as it was handed from David Robinson to Duncan well over a decade ago. 

5. Chris Bosh

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 30

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 19.0 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.3 blocks, 19.3 PER

    The Spurs can't afford to leave Chris Bosh open beyond the arc. 

    The 30-year-old big man has expanded his range like never before during the 2014 postseason. He's drilled 41 percent of his three-point looks despite taking 4.1 per game. That's a stellar combination, especially for a player who only needs to be threatening in order to stretch out a defense. 

    Bosh has been more than threatening; he's been terrific. 

    If you leave him in the corner, he's not going to miss. And fortunately for the Heat, LeBron is quite adept at driving toward the hoop and kicking it out to the perimeter, either directly to the combo big man or to a wing player who can swing the ball into the corner. 

    Is he a dominant post player? No. Is he a great defender? Not really. Is he crashing the boards effectively? See the previous two answers. 

    But Bosh is still a unique and valuable player for Miami. 

4. Tim Duncan

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PF/C

    Age: Irrelevant

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.9 blocks, 21.3 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.4 blocks, 21.6 PER

    Is this Tim Duncan's last series in the NBA? 

    It very well could be, especially if he's able to steer the Spurs to victory and earn the fifth ring of his legendary career. Then again, he could retire even if the Heat knock him out for the second year in a row. 

    Duncan is 38 years old, and while he's not exactly slowing down, it's about time for him to hang up the sneakers and move on to the next phase of his life. Half of the NBA's fans might end up crying like a baby once that happens. 

    Throughout the postseason, Duncan has continued to showcase the dominant two-way impact that has defined his career. He even managed to average 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game during the Western Conference Finals. 

    There's a serious chance that the big man is blackmailing Father Time with some top-secret information. It's also possible that the Fountain of Youth is located in the AT&T Center or that Nicolas Flamel was Duncan's grandfather. 

3. Tony Parker

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PG

    Age: 32

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 18.9 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.0 PER

    San Antonio's hopes and dreams may end up hinging on the health of Tony Parker's left ankle. 

    ''He's getting better every day, and I expect him to play,'' Pop said to the Associated Press two days prior to Game 1, as relayed by ESPN.com

    But there's a difference between playing and playing at full strength.

    If Parker's ankle is injured, it seriously compromises what makes him so special. It doesn't allow him to be on the move at all times, darting into the lane and brushing shoulders with a pick-setting teammate before he gets the rock, only to use another screen once he's gained possession. 

    And that's saying nothing of his defensive abilities, which continue to be rather underrated due to a shocking lack of appreciation for his complete understanding of the San Antonio schemes. 

    Parker, at full strength, can challenge any point guard in the NBA, and he's way too much for Mario Chalmers to handle. That's why LeBron James was forced to switch onto him so often during the 2013 NBA Finals. Quite frankly, 100 percent Parker has a serious argument for the No. 2 spot in these rankings. 

    But we don't know if he'll ever reach that status. 

2. Dwyane Wade

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    Age: 32

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 22.0 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.0 PER

    Apparently the maintenance plan has had great results. 

    Dwyane Wade didn't play all that much during the regular season, sitting out 28 games throughout the year while avoiding back-to-back contests like the plague. In addition to the days off, Wade averaged only 32.9 minutes per outing, the lowest mark of his career. 

    The caution worked. 

    Wade has played in all 15 of Miami's postseason contests, and he's averaged 34.7 minutes per game. Perhaps even more importantly, he's looked like vintage Flash, showing off athletic bursts, that deadly mid-range game and the occasional lockdown possession on the defensive end of the floor. 

    "He’s a big-time, huge piece to our puzzle," LeBron recently said to the Associated Press, as relayed by The Washington Post. "To have him out there in the groove that he’s in right now, it’s going to help us."

    No kidding. 

    This is a far cry from the version of Wade who needed constant treatment during last year's run, to the point that he actually had to consider sitting out crucial games. And it might make all the difference. 

1. LeBron James

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 29

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 29.3 PER

    Playoff Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 31.1 PER

    Is there any doubt that LeBron James is the best player in this series? 

    Kevin Durant may have earned MVP during the regular season, taking that title away from James for the first time in a couple seasons, but James has flipped the switch on now that the games actually matter. 

    He's shooting insane numbers during the postseason proceedings—56.2 percent from the field, 35.6 percent from beyond the arc and 80.9 percent at the charity stripe—and his defensive intensity has quite noticeably risen a few levels. 

    During the regular season, he was often a step slow when closing out on shooters and making key rotations. His reaction times weren't quite as finely tuned either. 

    But that's all changed now that a three-peat is within reach. 

    If the Spurs are going to win a title, it's going to have to come at the expense of the best player in basketball.